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Christopher Nolan Tag

14feb5e5d26812ef15bc61I don’t pay a lot of attention to press kit material, but a quote from director Zack Snyder in the Man of Steel notes bears repeating. “We knew the action had to be bigger than big, with heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thrills. We never lost sight of the fact that we were making a Superman movie.” His producer wife, Deborah, chimes in on their goal: “To make Superman relevant for today’s audiences, to make him fit into our world.”

Mission accomplished“–as a former president once said of some business that turned out to be rather incomplete. On its own terms, Man of Steel is a success, an update of 75-year-old comics mythology free of the “truth, justice, all that stuff” ambivalence of the only fitfully fulfilling Superman Returns (2006). It knows what it wants to be, and owns it. But it’s the latest in a lengthening line of superhero and sci-fi/action adventure blockbusters (many, like this one, produced by the deep-pocketed Legendary Pictures) to leave me

Inception (Warner Bros., 2010)

For all the high-tech gewgaws that help modern Hollywood filmmakers get their visions to the screen, we’re living in a depressingly undemanding time for cinema — and the summer blockbuster slate, traditionally stuffed with sequels and CGI-fueled action thrillers, is the most brain-dead season of all. Thank goodness, then, for Christopher Nolan, who refuses to treat filmgoers like children — and thank goodness for Inception, which, in the summer of The A-Team, Grown Ups, and The Last Airbender, gave us a movie worth talking about after it was over. Now that we’ve had a few months to debate what that ending meant, how does it hold up on DVD and Blu-ray?

Synopsis: Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan directs an international cast in an original sci-fi actioner that travels around the globe and into the intimate and infinite world of dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible — inception.

Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

They mess with your head, they riff on reality and illusion, they can be somewhat frustrating at times — and yet I love them. With the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception this week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of my favorite cinematic head-scratchers.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). “My God, it’s full of stars.” The lovable old grandpa of movie mind fucks is director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece about evolution, strange monoliths and “stargates” that lead to white rooms where you can see various stages of human life unfold in a matter of minutes. I’ve seen the film many times and still don’t completely understand it all, so if you’re looking for answers I don’t have them. But like a lot of films on this list, it’s not so much about understanding everything as it is enjoying the trip.

12 Monkeys (1995). “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if I was crazy? Then the world would be okay.” Time travel is always a good way to mess with people’s heads, especially ones in which the same person ends up in the same location twice but at the same time. Terry Gilliam directs a script by David and Janet Peoples (inspired by the 1962 French short La Jetée by Chris Marker), set in a future where most of the population has been wiped out by a virus and a convicted criminal (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to gather information about the outbreak.

eXistenZ (1999). “What if we’re not in the game anymore?” Writer-director David Cronenberg spins a yarn about a virtual reality game in which devices called “bio-ports” are inserted into the spines of the players, in a story reminiscent of the stories of Philip K. Dick (a writer whose adaptations show up on this list a couple of times). Naturally the effect is so realistic players can’t distinguish between the game and reality — and neither can we, the audience.

Its Blu-ray debut is timed to take advantage of the hubbub surrounding director Christopher Nolan’s latest film, but 2002’s Insomnia would make for a fine summer reissue even if Warner Bros. weren’t already pimping the highly anticipated Inception — to watch Al Pacino trudging around the Alaskan wilderness while you’re sweating through one of the hottest nights of the year is to be reminded that cooler winds will soon prevail.

A remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s film of the same name, Insomnia appears, on the surface, to be your standard crime thriller, transplanted to the icy tundra — as it opens, you’ve got a pair of LAPD detectives flying into a small Alaskan town to assist in a murder investigation. This is Nolan, though; even if what he’s showing you is exactly as it seems, you know there’s some rich subtext running beneath the frame.

Here, it’s a subplot about an internal affairs investigation targeting the detectives, and the conflict that arises when one partner (Hap Eckhart, played by Martin Donovan) decides to cut a deal that will implicate the other (Will Dormer, played by Pacino). Without spoiling any details, Dormer’s carrying a certain amount of guilt as the movie begins, and events soon transpire that compound it exponentially.